Ask Syracuse men’s basketball assistant coach and head-coach-in-waiting Mike Hopkins a question, any question, and he’ll have a memorable response. From social networking to being named one of the nation’s premier assistant coaches, the former SU guard fielded a variety of questions with aplomb at the team’s Media Day that ushered in the 2010-2011 season.
Q. You’re the head coach in waiting, and you’ll be following a legend in Jim Boeheim. Is there some trepidation about that?
A. Tom Izzo followed Jud Heathcote (at Michigan State). I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like I‘ve learned from the best. That’s how I look at it. If you worry about that, you’ll lose. I look at it like it’s protecting the legacy, that’s what’s more appealing to me. When that opportunity comes it’s protecting what he’s (Boeheim’s) built.
Q. Is it true that at the end of each season you go to Coach Boeheim and say, “So is this the time you’re going to step down so I can take over?”
A. No (laughs).
Q. How’s this coach-in-waiting deal going for you?
A . For me I’ve always focused on how can I get better? I was involved with some stuff over the last year, realized that to be the best you have to evaluate yourself every year and then ask yourself how do you get better? I was fortunate that Coach Boeheim brought me along on the trip with Coach K (Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski) and the USA Men’s Basketball Team. It was like going to grad school. He (Boeheim) puts me in the position to be better.
Q. What’s the impact of being around USA Basketball been on you?
A. Oh gosh, just being around and understanding what the relationships are, seeing a different way to do it, being around the best minds in basketball, how the culture of an organization is run. Just being around good people. You realize that’s what it’s all about.
Q. How is this helping you become a better coach?
A. Exposure. Confidence. When you’re sitting there and you’re working out at practice and putting in drills and Kevin Durant (of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder) is listening to you, those types of things are invaluable. You feel like you can do it anywhere.
Q. You’ve been coaching for a long time but you’re still a kid at heart. What’s it like being around all those NBA superstars?
A. You realize that they’re great people and you realize that they’re hard workers. You think that they’ve all had the magic wand treatment and that they’re just great without having to work hard. Kevin Durant worked as hard as I’ve ever seen a player work and that goes all the way down the list. You’re with great coaches and you see how hard they work and you say there’s no secret. It’s a good game plan and hard work. That’s the one thing about great coaches like Coach Boeheim and Coach K. They keep it simple. I call it simple elegance.
Q. Earlier this year Fox Sports voted you and (SU men’s basketball associate head coach) Bernie Fine among the top 10 assistant coaches in the country. What was your reaction?
A. Oh gosh, it means nothing. Assistant coaches really are only as good as their head coaches. Look at this place. I tell people all the time that Coach Boeheim doesn’t get the recognition for being a great recruiter. He’s a sleepy great recruiter if that makes sense. I tell kids you have a chance to play for a Hall of Fame coach. You have a chance to see this place (the Melo Center). You have a chance to play in the Dome. It takes a team.
Q. So are you and Coach (Rob) Murphy getting too much credit as being recruiting gurus?
A. I just think it’s everybody. That’s the one thing I’ve really learned from Coach Boeheim. He’s always surrounded his teams with great people–from the training staff to the strength and conditioning staff. In recruiting it can’t be one person. It’s a team. What we tell recruits is that these are the people who are going to make your dreams come true basketball-wise and I think that’s where we’ve been successful. It’s the people they’re going to be surrounded by.
Q. So what’s it like working for Boeheim?
A. I tell people that I work for the greatest guy. The way he is allows you to grow. In any business, you need to grow. Coach is so secure and confident in who he is that he lets you do your thing and if he sees something wrong he’ll change it. He’s the best. I always thought that but he’s just on a different planet.
Q. What stands out about him?
A. I love everything he stands for and everything he’s about. The loyalty factor. They way he treats his ex-players. He’ll do anything for his ex-players and that includes me.
Q. Chemistry. Underrated? Overrated?
A. Chemistry is underrated so much. It really helped us last year. Obviously, you have to have talent and you can’t just win with chemistry, but it’s definitely one piece of the puzzle.
Q. How important was chemistry to the success of last year’s team?
A. Chemistry was a major piece. The kids were all older. Arinze (Onuaku) was a fifth-year senior, Andy (Rautins), a fifth-year senior; Wes (Johnson), really a fifth-year guy. We had a lot of upperclassmen. Real mature guys.
Q. Talk about the impact that social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. has had on recruiting.
A. It’s more dangerous than anything. You can get on Twitter and find out what guys are doing, find out where they are, what they’re thinking, what they’re saying to their friends, but I don’t really get on too much. I don’t think it impacts a kid about wanting to go to a school more or anything like that. I think it’s more about gathering information like what is someone really thinking. Who does he think is leading? It’s just more information.
Q. When Twitter first broke out on the scene the big thing was for coaches to be on Twitter. How about you? Do you think it’s that important?
A. I think it’s more for the fans and making money. (Kentucky coach) John Calipari has a million followers and he’ll sell a book or say he just got his house redone by such and such business. I don’t think it’s that important in recruiting for people to know when you went to the bathroom on Thursday.
Q. How many followers do you have?
A. I started it and I did it one summer recruiting (tweeting) that I was here, I was there and it was fun, but then it got to the point that I didn’t want people to know when I’m out of town. I have three kids and a wife. It’s too much information. It can be used in the right way but I also think it’s dangerous. Sometimes you’re better off just turning it off.
Q. What’s your gut feeling about this year’s team?
A. I think we have the talent. There’s no question we have talent. The hardest thing is to get all the guys to buy into their roles and to get them playing together, accepting coming off the bench. For Scoop (Jardine) and Kris Joseph to do what they did last year and accept their roles was great. The good thing is we have size, we have guard play. The one thing missing maybe is perimeter play but I think we’ll be as good defensively.
Q. Talk about the impact the freshmen (Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair, Baye Moussa Keita) will have on this year’s team?
A. The biggest thing is that they’re all talented kids who had great high school careers. It’s going to be interesting to see how they adjust to the college game. They have a lot of talent, a lot of skill and obviously they’ve played at the highest level.
Q. What us your expectation for Kris Joseph?
A. He’s the next great Syracuse forward. He has a huge smile, has great charisma, great talent. It says a lot about him coming off the bench last year. He had a great teammate in Wesley Johnson who he could follow and another great role model in Arinze Onuaku. He watched a lot and learned.
Story by Mark Frank, special contributor to The Juice Online. This story appeared in the 2010-11 Syracuse Basketball Yearbook. For a complete look at this year’s team, pick up a copy at the Carrier Dome for only $8.